Impressions from Save our Soils congress in Amsterdam

Impressions from Save our Soils congress in Amsterdam

15 July 2015

On 26 June, in the framework of the United Nations International Year of Soils, the Celebrate Soil, Celebrate Life! congress in Amsterdam aimed to raise public awareness of the central importance of living soil. Positively, the call for a paradigm shift was loud. But more concrete solutions could have been offered.

The event was organised by Nature and More in partnership with FAO and IFOAM under the flag of Save Our Soils. Business, political, civil society and spiritual leaders shared their visions, passion and commitments with regards to soil challenges and how to become ‘soilmates’ with over 500 people.

The day started with the director of the Agriculture Department of the Ministry of Economy of the Netherlands. She highlighted that the Netherlands is the world’s second biggest exporter of agricultural products, but rather disappointingly she did not mention its impact on soils. Claudia Olazábal from the European Commission mentioned an ongoing dialogue between people who defend private ownership of soils, and those who favour common soil ownership and management in order to improve soils.

The congress went on to discuss the limit of soil as a nonrenewable resource. The speakers agreed on the urgent need for a paradigm shift: at this moment people who pollute soils receive subsidies, while those who try to restore soils – for example organic farmers – are not rewarded. Patrick Holden from the Sustainable Food Trust in the UK suggested a shift from chemistry to biology in the debate about soils.

The mindshift needed to ‘understand, love and develop the earth as a living organism’ was discussed by Angangaq Angakkorsuaq, Shaman and Elder from Greenland, Chief Arvol Lookin Horse, Faithkeeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe in the USA, Rev. Thabo C. Makgoba, Archbishop of South Africa, Ibrahim Abouleish from Egypt, and Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp. They agreed that we do not own the earth, but the earth and soil own us: “Soil is life and we should not act as different communities, cultures and religions, but as a one earth community”.

The day ended with a session on ‘soilutions’ and ‘soilmates’.  Joszi Smeets from the Youth Food Movement received applause when she stated that young people are acting positively and not cynically about redefining food, and that they are learning about the important role of soils. She asked the (older) audience to respect but not to try to understand young people and their struggle to improve the world. “This generation will not participate in massive demonstrations, but will look for innovative ways in order to change the world. Young people will do their own thing but are also willing to learn from older and more experienced people.”

While the speakers of the congress emphasised the need to change and to shift paradigms, few concrete solutions were offered on how to improve soils. In that sense, the recent Farming Matters issue ‘Soils for Life’, offering a wealth of practical ideas, was received well by congress participants. At the end of the congress, the ‘Amsterdam Declaration‘ (PDF) was adopted.